MMO Anime Recommendation: Log Horizon

Log HorizonI’ve never been into anime. I don’t have anything against it, it’s just not my thing. I mean, I watched Pokémon back in the 90s just like everyone else, and I enjoy anime styled games like Megaman, but the shows have just never caught my interest. Bad translations bother me, bad dubs bother me more, and I’m not interested enough to pick through bad shows to find the good. Besides, most of my TV watching is done while I’m doing something boring on my other monitor. Fortunately, I have friends who watch anime (and play MMOs) who highly recommended Log Horizon to me. They described the plot as, “A bunch of people wake up inside an MMO one day and have to learn to live in the game.” My response was, “Is this another name for Sword Art Online?” I watched exactly one episode of Sword Art Online, and couldn’t stand any more. It seems pretty clear to me that the people who made Sword Art Online have never played an MMORPG, possibly never played an RPG. All I remember is the characters talking about needing to get through all 100 levels (not in the “enough XP to level up to 100” sense, but in the Mario “beat all the levels to win the game” sense) before everyone else did because all of the monsters would be killed and then they wouldn’t be able to get any XP to get strong enough to progress to kill the evil dude who trapped them all in the VR game in the first place. In other words, nothing respawns. What kind of crappy game designer thought that up? “Oh, you bought the game a week after it came out? Sorry, should have gotten it on launch day; the XP’s all gone. Better unsubscribe now.” Also, the whole “if you die in the game and you die in real life” thing is a bit hokey. Especially in a genre where you pretty much expect to die from time to time, especially if you’re the first ones to do a brand new raid.

Log Horizon, by contrast, actually feels like it was written by a veteran MMO gamer, but it makes no assumptions that the viewer is as well. The players suddenly wake up in their favorite MMO, Elder Tale(s), and the show spends the first half of the first season slowly introducing MMO mechanics, as well as how they are different in this new world, such as classes and how they interact (the three main characters are a tank, a DPS, and a support), PKing (the game is apparently all OWPvP), crafting (can you craft stuff you know about in the real world that wasn’t previously an item in the game?), RP (one of the main characters is very serious about being a ninja, and another is very serious about being a cat-person), death and respawning (XP penalties, ew), even what happens to players who play a character who doesn’t look like them (the main character has to ajdust to walking because his character is much taller than he is, and another character turns out to be a girl playing a male character). A large chunk of season two involves players learning a new raid. It introduces these concepts gradually enough that I think a person only marginally aware of MMOs could follow it, but it doesn’t feel like it’s talking down to MMO veterans. It has all the anime trappings, from unrequited love triangles to over-the-top action sequences. The plot as a whole is very well thought out; it’s clear that the author had a plan for the story from the beginning, and has stuck to it consistently across both seasons and (hopefully) beyond. Overall, it’s incredibly well done.

Both seasons are available to watch for free (with ads) on Hulu and Crunchyroll. I’ve been watching the subtitled version (it’s good for the most part, though a lot of spellings change between seasons), and I think a dubbed version is available, but, from what little I’ve seen of it, it’s not very well done, so stick with subbed unless that just really annoys you. My wife and I were hooked after just two episodes, and we binged the whole first season in about four days on our recent vacation, and now we’re almost done with the second season. If you’re an MMO player looking for something to watch, I highly recommend this show!

LotRO: Rune-Keeping

Areluin 29I’ve never been a big fan of elves in any universe, and it all goes back to Tolkien elves. After all, basically every modern fantasy story can trace its roots, directly or indirectly, back to Tolkien, especially anything to do with elves, which, prior to Tolkien, were depicted mostly as small, mischievous pixies rather than tall, beautiful (arrogant, know-it-all), and graceful humanoids with pointed ears. To be perfectly honest, though, I’ve always been a little torn about Tolkien elves. On the one hand, they have a cool culture, and Tolkien went to all the trouble of writing a whole history book and an entire language for them. On the other hand, mostly what we see of them in the Lord of the Rings is them saying “Oh, the greatest threat Middle-Earth has ever known is returning? Yeah we’ve known about that for ages. Well, we’re packing up our army of immortal supersoldiers and sailing west, see ya.” And let’s be honest, cramming a weird dwarf-elf love triangle into the Hobbit movies where it didn’t belong didn’t improve my love for elves either.

All that to say, of the multitude of characters I’ve made in Lord of the Rings Online, not many of them have been elves. I made Areluin (the Sindarin Elvish words for “royal” and “blue” run together) a while back because I needed another character for crafting, and I made him and elf because I hadn’t done the elf starting zone in a long time. I didn’t think I would ever end up playing him, but somehow I ended up doing a little questing with him one night when I was bored, and quickly fell in love with the class.

The Rune-Keeper is a really interesting, fairly unique class. They have an attunement bar that moves toward either DPS or Healing as you use spells of each type that increases the potency of those types of skills. I’m not sure why I haven’t played the rune-keeper sooner, since it’s practically nothing but HoTs and DoTs, and that’s been my favorite class archetype over the last few years. It just feels so “right.” I’m super squishy, with not much health, but I feel like I have a lot of power and survivability because I can DoT my target up and then hit a button to switch to healing, put a bunch of HoTs on myself and finish with a bubble that resets my attunement, then go back to damage before my DoTs expire. That requires constantly thinking a few steps ahead–you have to estimate when you’ll need to switch to self-healing, especially since some of my attunement resets and switchers have long cooldowns–but that makes it all the more interesting for me. I’d be lying if I said I died less than on my Beorning or Captain, but I don’t feel nearly as helpless as, say, my lore master. I’d love to try the healing game, but low-level dungeon runs are hard to come by in LotRO these days. Maybe I’ll ask around some time to see if any guilds do lowbie/alt dungeons on a regular basis. (Let me know if you know of any guilds on Gladden that do this!)

I feel a little bad starting yet another character on LotRO. This is the game where my altaholic tendencies were born, so I’ve done the Lone-Lands so many times that I could navigate it in my sleep, and the beauty of Lake Evendim now looks more like a painfully slow swim to the island of Tyl Ruinen (I just heard the zone referred to as “Everswim” in world chat). Also, as much as I’m loving the rune-keeper, I said basically the same things about the beorning just last Febuary. Will this character suffer the same burnout? Only time will tell, but it would be nice to get at least one of them into Moria. I’ve paid for several expansions that I’ve yet to see, and I’d like to remedy that situation.

Is It Possible To Balance Melee and Ranged Classes?

It’s a perennial problem for MMOs: either melee classes have the advantage or ranged ones do. In WildStar, the constant moving and dodging out of red means ranged classes have an advantage simply because they can keep attacking while they move. In older MMOs like Lord of the Rings Online, where most of the ranged classes are rooted casters and most of the melee classes have a lot of instant casts, melee classes have the edge. From what I’ve heard about SWTOR, it seems that they’ve recently swung the pendulum; melee classes have always had more DPS/tanking potential, but many of the recent dungeon and raid bosses have included mechanics that require melee classes to move back to avoid massive damage, thus limiting their output. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that I do better with melee classes in games with action combat like Elder Scrolls Online because I’m more likely to miss with ranged attacks. Sure, this isn’t really a balance issue so much as a “stop failing” issue, and probably less of an issue in dungeons where, if it’s anything like every other MMO I’ve played, most bosses are the size of a small house, but still, this is a genre where people create massive spreadsheets of damage output to determine the META, and I’ve seen people literally complaining that one race or faction has an “advantage” over the others because their casting animation is a little more subtle.

The best solution I’ve seen to this problem is in Guild Wars 2’s, where most classes can be either melee or ranged depending on what weapon you’re holding. This allows the developers a lot of freedom when designing fights because everyone should be able to step back and hit things from range at least sometimes. Unfortunately, it also means that you really have to have at least one ranged weapon set to be viable most of the time, which is annoying because there are many classes that have two melee sets that I like (for instance, Revenant’s Mace/Axe and Sword/Shield). Couldn’t I have a whole bunch of weapon sets like Guild Wars 1?

So what do you think? Is it possible to truly balance these two class styles? Have you played any MMOs with any clever ways of bringing these two class types into balance?

GW2: My Endgame Is Indistinguishable From Leveling (and That’s Not Bad)

Incendiary Lemons level up
I bounce around between a lot of MMOs, and the one that I’ve spent the most time on in recent years is Guild Wars 2. I’ve been playing for more than three and a half years, and I have more level capped characters in it than any other MMO. Ironically, however, I’ve done very little of the traditional endgame content. Most of my 80s are lucky to have a full set of exotic gear, and not one of them has a single piece of ascended. I’ve done at most half of the explorable dungeon paths, and I’ve certainly never seen the inside of a raid. I haven’t even done anything with my guild in ages (they’re great people, and they do a lot of activities, I just don’t spend a lot of time with them). So as I pulled my elementalist, my second lowest level character who I haven’t played in probably a year or more, out of retirement, I began to ask myself why. The answer that came to me is that Guild Wars 2 has made leveling so fun that I don’t feel like I need anything else to do. Sure, the occasional dungeon run with friends is fun, but open world content is much more enjoyable for me.

Guild Wars 2 has a probably my favorite leveling experience of any MMO I’ve ever played. It suffers from neither the kill grind nor the quest fatigue that most MMOs have because the game is primarily about mapping, so you’re never doing the same thing twice in each zone. Also, because of Guild Wars 2’s level scaling, you have a lot of freedom even at a low level. I recently discovered that there was a whole zone that I had never been to. In WildStar or SWTOR I may find the occasional quest that I’ve never done tucked away in some obscure corner of the map that, but never a whole zone.

So, when I hit 80 on a character, I just go right on mapping. Sure, I may move to higher level zones, or start doing the Living World or Heart of Thorns stories, but to someone who doesn’t know Guild Wars 2, my gameplay at 80 wouldn’t look any different than the gameplay at 20. And this is precisely why Guild Wars 2 didn’t need to bump up its level cap when the expansion came out. At first I was afraid this mastery thing was going to be a gimmick, but now that I’ve actually played it, I get it. They didn’t want just another ten levels for their players to grind out and not feel any different than when they started (especially given that they stop handing out new skills for leveling so early on), they wanted to do something unique to the setting of the new expansion, because the game is as much about exploring as killing monsters.

Because I’m an altaholic, I don’t have 100% map completion on any of my characters, but if my characters could all gather together in a room and compare notes, I’m sure they’d have at least two full maps of the world between them. I feel like some day I should do it all on one character (probably my necromancer, since he’s my best geared character with most of the world already unlocked), but I really don’t feel bad about it. I’ll get around to it eventually.

Exploring Korean Imports

terminology XKCDThings have been really crazy at work lately. We’ve got a big project going on right now and it has required some extra hours. The blessing of being an IT guy is that I can work from home when I need to. The curse of being an IT guy is that I can work from home whenever anyone needs anything. All that to say, my gaming time (and, therefore, my blogging time) has been limited of late. So, of course, what better time to download and try some new F2P MMOs than between running large after-hours database processes? [/sarcasm]
Icarus PegasiI’ve never been into Korean import MMOs. I’ve tried a few in the past, but for some reason the art style really bothers me, and they often tend to be poorly translated and tone deaf toward Western preferences when it comes to things like business models and gender locking. Also, armorkinis everywhere. But I try not to judge things categorically, so, when I heard a lot of buzz surrounding Riders of Icarus, I figured I’d at least give it a shot. Running around taming dragons to use as flying mounts of death? Sounds fun to me. As much as I feel like dragons are overdone, Icarus has done them in an interesting way, which is really all I can ask for. If nothing else, the game has really nice, high-end graphics, which is something Eastern MMOs often do better than Western MMOs. I thought this was going to be an action combat game, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that I could choose between action combat or something a little more like traditional, WoW-like tab-target controls (there are still some oddities like click-to-move, but it’s better than being locked into shooter controls).
Icarus Creepy Hippie
My biggest complaint–other than the character creator allowing for perhaps too much freedom with its sliders, as you can see here (and, for the record, no, I did not actually play as a creepy bobble headed hippie dude)–is that mages have to say their spells every time they cast. Yes, I get that it’s a high fantasy staple that you have to say magic words as you swish and flick your wand to cast a spell, but listening to my character repeating “Surrat! Duberus!” over and over gets old very fast.
While it seems like a good game, I probably won’t play it much, if at all. I’ve got more games than I know what to do with right now; I bought almost nothing on the Steam sale because, while my wishlist is fairly long, I couldn’t find anything that I wanted to play right now, and everything I was excited about wasn’t on sale by much, and I’m willing to wait. Riders of Icarus was a fun diversion for a few hours–I don’t regret my time there–but not really my thing. File this one under “revisit when bored of other options.”

ToS Veritas 10The other Korean import I’ve been trying out recently is Tree of Savior. I really like the idea of OARPGs, but, other than Marvel Heroes, I haven’t found much that I liked. I’ve had my eye on this one since it was announced that it would be coming to the West, and I jumped in as soon as it went free-to-play, but I’ve tried to stay away while they resolved some of their early problems (do they not have gold spammers in Korea? How was this not fixed in the original region?) to avoid an atypical bad first impression. I really like that ToS has a lot of class freedom. This is something that a lot of bigger, mainstream MMOs are missing. What ever happened to build-your-own-classes? Or at least multiclassing? Sure, everything’s not going to be perfectly balanced, but I’ve never been in an MMO where someone wasn’t whining about how their class got nerfed into the ground and some other class was massively OP. I’d rather have a class system that allows me to customize my play style than the most pristinely balanced cookie-cutter classes ever made. If I made a bad character, that’s on me and I’m perfectly ok with rerolling at that point. While I’m usually not into super anime stylization in MMOs, I feel like it works really well in this gorgeous, hand-drawn-feeling world.
A lot of the default options for Tree of Savior make me wonder what planet the developers learned to play video games on. Do yourself a favor and switch to the mouse (Diablo-style) controls right away (press escape and click the gear in the corner), and turn off the scrolling /shout text at the top of the screen (press enter and click the gear on the chat box). Also, the translation is kind of painful. That would be worse if the story was good, but it hasn’t drawn me in so far. Apparently I’m going around telling a bunch of people that I had a dream about some goddesses who supposedly disappeared (or didn’t, depending on who you ask? What, are they mad at us and not speaking to us anymore?) and there’s something about a giant tree that appeared somewhere and destroyed a bunch of cities and villages (curse you, Mordremoth!). Apparently it’s based on Lithuanian folk lore, so that’s interesting. Maybe it’ll get more interesting when I can actually see all of this stuff instead of just being told about it repeatedly by every random NPC I click on. For now, I’m mostly just skimming text and just mindlessly enjoying the gameplay.

I hate to put all MMOs in boxes of Western and Eastern, but there really is an obvious difference in flavor when playing games from different sides of the Pacific. While I prefer mostly Western games, I feel like it’s a good idea to branch out from time to time, and I can see why some people would like their style. If, indeed, the MMO industry is dying out here and picking up overseas, who knows, maybe one of these games will be the next big thing.

I Don’t Hate SWTOR’s Dark vs. Light Event

Dark vs Light

Why is the light side represented by a Chiss? They can’t even be Jedi/Sith without a legacy unlock.

There’s been quite the kerfuffle (kerfuffle is a great word, by the way) in the Star Wars The Old Republic community about the Dark vs. Light event. Announced last week, it basically gives rewards to players who roll new characters and do certain achievements, rewards, including XP boosting armor and some much sought-after lockbox rewards. Also, perhaps more interesting, based on the total number of players’ light/dark decisions, BioWare will be giving out either a Jedi or Sith companion to players who reach the Eternal tier. Many players claim that it is simply a ploy to get users to subscribe and buy character slots, playing on their fear of missing out on limited time rewards if they don’t. To that I say, of course it is. They have to make money, and if they’re going to give me a companion and a chance at getting Revan outfit pieces without spending millions of credits on the GTN, then I’m willing to subscribe for a month to get the latest chapters of the Knights of the Fallen Empire story.

That said, I can totally understand why these players are upset. I’m a very casual SWTOR player these days; I play only sporadically, and when I do it’s for the story, not for anything that will hold me long term. If this were, for instance, Guild Wars 2, where I already have characters of every class, who are all decently leveled if not capped, I’m sure I would join in the protest. It’s really unfortunate that there’s no reward for veteran players who have already done all of the objectives on the list, but I’m not sure what the alternative was. You can’t just give out all of the rewards on day one to anyone who plays SWTOR exclusively and has a million alts at the level cap. The point of the event is to give players something new to work toward. Plus, if you give a consolation prize (say, the companion and no lockboxes or cosmetics) to everyone who already has both Republic and Imperial characters at 65, there’s inevitably that one guy who will have his characters one level short who will make a big fuss because he wasn’t notified soon enough that he needed to get all of his ducks in a row to get the rewards. You can’t please everyone with this kind of thing, so, sadly, sometimes it’s best not to try. It’s unfortunate that veteran players are getting mostly ignored on this one, but I honestly don’t see a better way.

This isn’t Guild Wars 2, though, it’s SWTOR, the game that rewards altaholism with unique stories for each class and loads of player choice. If any game was going to run an event that encourages rolling new characters, SWTOR is the one to do it. This event is tailor made to get people like me, former players who have lapsed, back into the game to start fresh and hopefully try out the content that they’ve generated since we left. And, you know what? It worked. I’ve been toying with the idea of coming back, and this was the incentive I needed. And, by the looks of it, I’m not the only one. Last night I saw 150-300 people in each of the starting zones.

So, while the event is a little tone deaf toward veteran players, I personally think the Dark vs. Light event isn’t completely awful. Its only purpose is to give new and former players a reason to come back, and I think it has succeeded at that. It’s got me excited about the game again, and I can’t wait to get my armor set and free lockboxes!

Warcraft Movie: Why the Hate? (Spoiler Free)

Durotan RoarI walked out of the theater last night after watching Warcraft with only one thought on my mind: “That was really good. Why did this get such horrible reviews?” With a current Metacritic rating of only 32, to say that film critics have not received Warcraft well would be an understatement. Ok, so movie critics are just categorically biased against video game movies. The fans will like it, right? While some did, much of the gaming media has jumped on the hate bandwagon as well. Seriously, were they in a different movie than I was?

Let me say up front that I don’t know Warcraft lore well. At all. I played Warcraft III a little, but mostly in multiplayer, and that was years ago. I have had a lot of friends who have played WoW off and on over the years, but if any of them were lore junkies, they didn’t talk about it to me much. As such, when Stormwind and Dalaran look too much like they do in the era of WoW and not how they should look at this point in history, I don’t know the difference. I’m not saying that my ignorance excuses the film makers’ ignorance (or worse, willful disregard for major details), I’m just saying that it doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the movie the way it would if I were a Warcraft fan. If I were, I’m sure I would rage right along with them on those points.

That said, I really thought that this movie, in a vacuum, did a lot of things really well. The CGI, for example, was amazing. I went in expecting to hate the orcs–they look ok in the super-stylized fantasy world that Blizzard has created, but their exaggerated proportions and weird tusks can’t possibly make the jump to photorealism, right?–but they were so expressive, something that is usually lost with CGI-ified characters, that I forgot within the first ten minutes to try to look for places where they look fake. I would argue that Warcraft does realistic, expressive CGI characters better than Avatar did, and everyone raved about how great Avatar’s characters were (granted, Avatar was 7 years ago, but few movies have managed to top it). I simply never felt, as many have accused it, like it was a bunch of people prancing around in front of a greenscreen. Magic was also really well done, especially in 3D. Only in one scene, involving a giant wall of lightning, did I think the spell effects looked cheap, but other than that they did an excellent job with it.

Another criticism is that there isn’t any character development. That simply isn’t true. I can’t talk a lot about it without spoilers (maybe I’ll post some spoilery thoughts if people are interested, let me know in the comments), but I think a case could be made that several characters show as much development as any character in most other blockbuster movies. Again, I can’t speak to whether or not the characters develop in a way that is consistent with the games, but to say that there is no development is a gross exaggeration. Also, many people felt that the movie jerked you around a lot, trying to tell too many stories in too many different places at once, but I’m not sure how you could possibly tell the story of Warcraft without showing both sides equally as well as the strife within each faction’s own ranks.

The most ridiculous claim that I’ve seen is that it’s some kind of Lord of the Rings wannabe. This claim is simply laughable, and makes me wonder if these reviewers, first of all, have even read The Lord of the Rings books (or at least watched the movies), and second, if they actually watched Warcraft or just watched some clips and made assumptions. If Warcraft is a Lord of the Rings ripoff, then literally every fantasy story of the last fifty years is as well. Lord of the Rings has had incredibly far-reaching impact on the fantasy genre, to the point where many would say that Tolkien invented the modern Fantasy story. Yes, there are orcs fighting humans, with the occasional magic-user thrown in… but that’s literally where the similarities end.

Don’t get me wrong, this movie isn’t without its flaws. It skims over some of the details, like how exactly the Dark Portal and fel magic corruption work and how the various characters came to have access to them. What’s worse is that the Dark Portal was changed a lot for the movie, so it’s not like they’re skipping over details they figure the audience knows, it was just poorly thought out. Also, several of the main characters’ deaths are rather sudden and unceremonious, killing them and moving on before it has sunk in. And (I don’t think this a spoiler since it was in the trailer) the whole thing with Thrall being orc Moses was really weird. That said, I don’t think it was any more flawed than the vast majority of movies that get much better ratings than Warcraft.

So why all the hate? I know only a smattering of the lore from the Warcraft ‘verse, and my wife knows even less, and we both came out of the movie extremely satisfied with the story, production, and thoroughly confused about all of the hate it has been getting. What am I missing?